Rewilding in a Changing Europe

On Wed 10 January 2018  we held one day event at Bangor University with the aim of setting an agenda and identifying opportunities to take forward research activity to evaluate the opportunities and threats that rewilding poses across Europe.

Rewilding has become a hot topic in recent years, sparking passionate debate across society. For many rewilding presents an exciting possibility to restore our environment and reconnect with the natural world. For others, it is more threatening – in terms of the potential impacts on agriculture and rural heritage. The conference provided an opportunity for academics and practitioners across Europe to come together to set a research agenda to evaluate the opportunities and threats that rewilding poses. These were connected to NRN LCEE priority themes by exploring how rewilding intersects with questions of sustainable land-use transition, food security, rural development and community resilience.

The event involved 60 attendees, 8 invited speakers and 11 academics as part of the organising committee. This represented a total of 23 different academic institutions along with  representatives from 13 NGO’s / land management practitioners including Wild Europe, Rewilding Britain, Vincent Wildlife Trust, Wales Wildlife Trusts and Welsh Beaver Project, RSPB, Woodland Trust, Cambrian Wildwood, Red Squirrels Trust, Fferm Ifan, Youth Network for River Action and the Living Taff, Barbary Macaque Awareness & Conservation.

The line-up of the day included presentations from six leading academics in the field, providing a range of disciplinary perspectives; these included:

  • Jens-Christian Svenning (Aarhus University) provided and important historical ecological basis for discussions by setting out the need for ‘trophic rewilding’, outlining the impacts of lost species on our habitats.
  • Martin Drenthen (Radboud University) pushed us to consider the human dimensions of rewilding and potential value conflicts associated, exploring issues of heritage and environmental identity.
  • Aurora Torres (German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research), explored the applied policy dimensions of rewilding, outlining ongoing work with Rewilding Europe [hyperlink] evaluating how rewilding can address European biodiversity policy goals.
  • Dolly Jørgensen (University of Stavanger) outlined a series of historical insights into experiences of animal reintroductions, contending that rewilding needs to attend more effectively to local communities.
  • Ian Rotherham (Sheffield Hallam University) pushing us to consider the ecological traces of ‘Shadow Woods’ in the British landscape, outlining how these fragments and clues could inform more widespread rewilding here.
  • Marcus Hall (University of Zurich) closed the day with a provocative comparison between landscape or ‘Earth art’ and rewilding. Exploring the interaction of human agency and environmental processes, he pushed us to consider the lessons we could learn from curating ‘Earth Art’ for our interventions in rewilding.

To ensure discussion remained attentive to a range of stakeholder needs – academic and applied – we also heard from NGO’s including Rewilding Britain (Rebecca Wrigley) and Wild Europe (Toby Aykroyd), who presented their current work and research needs to support them to in the implementation of rewilding. Experiences from Vincent Wildlife Trust and Wales Wildlife Trust’s Beaver Project were also shared.

Presentation slides and speakers abstracts are available here (click on link)

In the final session of the day participants were organised into facilitated groups to draw-up and prioritise research needs highlighted by the speakers and explore opportunities to implement research work to address these. To support this activity speakers were asked to provide a clear statement on what they perceived to be key research priorities in their talks and participants were asked to contribute their own research priorities in advance. These priorities were compiled into a list which was circulated on the day to support this activity. Each table grouping derived one question / priority area that was then discussed in detail.

Priorities areas highlighted included:

  1. What do we mean by wild? Can we accommodate multiple wilds? What (whose) knowledges inform how we understand wild?
  2. What value systems and methods of valuation can be used to inform decision making and enable costs and benefits to be captured and allocated?
  3. (How) Is participation, collaboration and inclusivity being taken forward in rewilding projects and discourse?
  4. What are the trades-offs and conflicts associated with rewilding and how can we better manage these?
  5. What are the policy opportunities / openings/ connections for rewilding? & How do we influence policy (makers/forums) to support / advance this?
  6. Is there potential / need for urban rewilding?
  7. How does (our understanding of) uncertainty and risk affect rewilding?